Half Moon Bay victim mourned by Reuters

© Reuters. Kati McHugh lights candles for the seven shooting victims at the shooting memorial, in Half Moon Bay, California, U.S. January 25, 2023. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

Alexandra Ulmer

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (Reuters) – When friends of farm supervisor Marciano Martinez heard about the shooting at the Half Moon Bay mushroom farms on Monday, they had a sinking feeling.

They knew he had to be there: Martinez, a migrant from Mexico, worked every day except Saturday. He rarely took time off for holidays like Thanksgiving. When the alarm went off at night, he would rush to the spot. Even with friends in social situations, he would lament when the crop was not good, blaming bad seeds, or rave about a stellar harvest.

“He was so proud of his work,” close family friend Alicia Ortega said in an interview, looking up at the ceiling as she fought back tears.

“He would send me pictures of mushrooms. ‘Look how beautifully they grow,’ he would say. His phone was full of pictures of mushrooms.”

Martinez, 50, was among seven people killed by Chunli Zhao, 66, a fellow mushroom farm immigrant who appeared in court Wednesday after being charged with murder.

In addition to his dedication to work, Martinez was praised as a fiercely loyal man with a kind heart. Single and childless, he gradually became part of Ortega’s family, she said.

On Christmas Day 2020, she and her family even managed to drag Martinez away from the farm to open presents — for just half an hour, before he went back to work.

When Ortega’s husband, Reyes Vargas, was sick, Martinez would rush to the hospital after work. He helped them fix the car — although, Ortega recalled with a laugh, he wasn’t exactly on hand.

As Ortega’s husband took a turn for the worse, he asked Martinez to take care of his wife, Ortega said. Martinez promised.

And after her husband passed away in 2020, a devastated Ortega said that Martinez truly became a rock of support.

“Even when I was sad or crying, he made me smile. He turned my life around,” Ortega said during an interview in her living room, the warm California sun beating down on her face.

Martinez loved romantic Mexican bands, and played the accordion at church and parties.

In return, Ortega, a talented cook, would prepare Mexican chile rellenos, tongue tacos or her preferred homemade tortillas.

On Monday, the day of the shoot, she surprised him with one of his favorite lunches: rib-eye steak, bell peppers and baked potatoes.

“A colleague told me he enjoyed the meal like never before,” Ortega said. She took a deep breath. “I had no idea it would be his last.”

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